Minds behind Kolkata’s illuminated heritage buildings make a case for night tourism

Lighting work at St James Church by Tushar Bhalla and Mudar Patherya

Of late, the lighting designers of ‘The Kolkata Restorers’ have recognised a bright application of LED revolution in illuminating the churches and other british era architecture of the city, which could be a significant night tourism driver.

For the first time in 162 years, the metal crucifix crowning the St. James Church shone with all its glory and could be seen from miles as one looked up across the dazzling skyline of the city of joy.

St. James Church — between St. James’ School and Pratt Memorial School — dates back to the 1860s. This Gothic church is possibly Kolkata’s only twin spire church rising to 174 ft Better known as ‘Jora Girja’.

Mudar Patherya’s The Kolkata Restorers funded the illumination and Tushar Bhala, head lighting designer at Kolkata-based Hind Lighting, was the chief lighting designer of the project) took an entrepreneurial gamble.

The illumination of such a church required more than a simple halogen-driven approach: place one large light at the bottom and blast light onto the facade. The façade needed to be ‘embroidered’ — different lighting approaches for different points.

The lighting team used simple blasters to cover a large spatial spread without compromising lighting intensity. Earlier lost in the darkness of the night as the light was not adequate to illuminate the crucifix above the triangle, the lighting team did the next best thing — and here it becomes interesting: they placed a powerful beam on the railing of the church that was angled upwards on the crucifix.

They couldn’t place a small light immediately in front of the crucifix as it would have affected the visual design.

The challenge of illuminating St. James Church lay in its diversity and complexity. The church was large at one level — broad and high. The church is unusual in its frontal façade, which is not a straight-faced façade but one which is triangular and relatively low.

The stained glass at St. James Church served an internal function: it was installed for the benefit of the devotees who came for Mass during the day. As dusk descended, the power and the glory of the stained glass declined and faded into the blackness of the night.

Any attempt to illuminate the stained glass from outside would only prove to be a reflection — counterproductive to someone seeking to observe the façade which makes it imperative to illuminate the stained-glass panels from the inside with a strong light source.

As per designers, lighting a structure with all faithfulness is like peeling an onion; the more you peel, the more of the different emerges; the more of this different needs to be addressed in different ways faithful to its character, shape and scale; the more you customise with light intensity or extensivity, beam throw, colour, lens and temperature, the greater the ‘embroidery’ and the stronger the public recall that “The façade looked so stylishly pleasing!

Patherya collaborated with 20 different sponsors to secure budgets for the project — ‘The Kolkata Restorers’. “The budget depends on the architecture varying in between 1 lakh-2.5 lakhs,” says the shareholder, who has completed illumination projects at 22 distinct locations across Kolkata till now.

Patherya’s work includes the illumination of prominent landmarks such as the Bible Society building, established in 1811; the Greek Orthodox Church, located in Kalighat tram depot and constructed in 1925; St. James’ Church on AJC Bose Road, constructed in 1862; St. Mary’s Church on Elgin Road, popularly known as the “Bangli Cathedral”; Maghen David Synagogue on Canning Street, the Port Clock Tower, the Auxilium Church and the Portuguese Church on Brabourne Road, founded in 1799, also known as the Cathedral of The Most Holy Rosary.

Images by Jai Kishore Singh and Mudar Patherya (TelegraphIndia)

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